Mom whose son died in crash on I-395 wants guiderail
Waterford — An Uncasville woman is asking the state Department of Transportation to install a guiderail along the stretch of Interstate 395 where her son crashed and died in February.
Police said 23-year-old Stephen Richard Davis Wilmot was driving a 2005 Toyota Camry south when he traveled off the roadway and into a rock face Feb. 22 just after 2:30 a.m.
The Camry flipped over and traveled back across the roadway, striking a guiderail before stopping in the median almost two miles beyond the on-ramp from Route 85.
Stephen’s mother, 53-year-old Virginia Wilmot, said a screen for alcohol and drugs came back negative. She believes her animal-loving son, on an early morning run to McDonald’s, had swerved to miss an animal and lost control.
Police said the road was slippery and Stephen, the sole occupant in the one-car crash, wasn’t using a restraint system. Wilmot said his seat belt must have malfunctioned because he typically wouldn’t start a car until everyone was buckled.
Although the police report isn’t complete, Wilmot said what she has seen showed her son died on impact.
“I don’t think he would be dead if there was a guardrail in front of that gigantic rock face wall,” said Wilmot, who has called politicians, too. “I just want justice for Stephen and the other people hurt or killed on that stretch of highway.”
Two children buried
Life has been tragic for Virginia Wilmot, whose first son, Cole Dean Wilmot, died Sept. 4, 1992, of sudden infant death syndrome. He was 3 months old.
Wilmot, who has degrees in education and music and used to teach at St. Mary Star of the Sea School in New London, said Stephen watched her struggle with the loss of Cole. He had his own bouts of depression because of it, she said.
“Him and I had a very close relationship,” she said. “What he watched me go through, I always felt guilty for that.”
Stephen came back home after a semester at the University of Connecticut — it wasn't for him, Wilmot said — and always was quick to run errands, clean or do whatever else his family needed.
"My mother called him her heart because he was always there to help her," Wilmot said.
In Fort Wayne, Ind., where he went to high school, Stephen’s Eagle Scout project was a garden shrine he built at a retirement community to honor his late grandfather, Richard “Pap” Cole.
He has given in death, too, through a campaign in his memory that so far has raised $815 for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
An engraved bunny and eagle bookend the plate memorializing Stephen in Waterford’s West Neck Cemetery — a plot that also includes a stone for his late brother, Cole.
"The plot was supposed to be for me," Wilmot said, crying.
She said Stephen had been happy since he went to her sister’s wedding in Disney World last year. Skeptical at first, he had enjoyed his time with Wilmot, her partner, Chris Vara, and the other adults on the trip.
“I hadn’t seen him smile like that in years,” Wilmot said.
Stephen cut his long, untidy hair, started caring about his appearance and began considering dating again, Wilmot said.
Three days before he died, he applied for a job at Disney World.
“He was just coming back to his old self,” Wilmot said. “I was so hopeful. I can’t even tell you how much I miss him.”
'It'll kill you if it stops you'
State Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick said family members and friends typically don’t make road safety suggestions after crashes.
More often, homeowners who are sick of cars striking their houses ask the DOT to install guiderails.
But Nursick said the DOT’s job is to protect motorists, not property, and guiderails themselves are roadside hazards.
“We don’t use the term ‘guardrail’ … because it gives the erroneous impression that you’re somehow guarded from harm,” Nursick said. “Oftentimes I think the public wonders, why not put guiderail everywhere? Well, because it can injure or kill people.”
Nursick said guiderail is valuable around sharp curves, along cliffs and in other cases when it is “the lesser of two evils.”
Nursick said his agency hasn’t noticed a pattern of serious crashes along the less than half-mile stretch where exposed rock lines I-395.
Seven crashes have happened on that slightly curved stretch since Jan. 1, 2009, the University of Connecticut Crash Data Repository shows. While two were fatal, only the diagram for Wilmot's shows the rock face having played a role.
Still, Nursick said the DOT considers any suggestions that come its way.
Indeed, Wilmot said a DOT representative has responded to her message. She called him back Friday, she said, but the two are playing phone tag.
Wilmot said her advocacy is a way to leave a legacy for a son who didn’t have a chance to craft his own.
“His car didn’t look like a car” after the crash, she said. “Sure, (the rock face) will stop you, but it’ll kill you if it stops you.”
Automobile accidents on I-395 in Waterford
2009 - 2018
Automobile accidents on I-395 in Waterford
2009 - 2018
The map shows clustering of accidents on Interstate 395 in Waterford.
Stories that may interest you
The Spanish Influenza pandemic in Connecticut is said to have started in New London on Sept. 1, 1918, when the active port debarked passengers and, a few days later, sailors from the U.S. Naval Base returned to port ill.
National experts on police accountability and members of New London’s Public Safety Policy Review Committee discussed race and police oversight Wednesday during a virtual forum.
Groton was awarded a state grant to extend the G&S Trolley Trail and provide more opportunities for people to bike in the Poquonnock Bridge section of town.